Winter RV Living in Alaska

Toyota Odyssey

by Timmy J post originally published at Timmy’s Toyota.

Well, it’s been close to 2 years now living in my little motorhome. I’m on the road nearly every night in a new place, doing my best to live comfortably, healthy, and happily. There are moments that are very trying, like coming home from a winter trip to find the couch and bed soaked with water and frozen solid. And yes, it’s very difficult to dry out a waterlogged bed and couch inside a 95 square foot motorhome in the Alaskan winter, but it’s possible.

Toyota Odyssey


Tobias the wolf & “Nelly” – my 1989 Toyota Odyssey 4×4 motorhome… I wouldn’t have it any other way

Living in your vehicle can actually be quite comfortable. Instead of paying rent for an apartment every month, I decided to take out a small loan and pay the loan off over 3 years. This allowed me to actually buy my home, just like someone purchasing a normal house (except I have no property taxes & it’s a much more affordable “mortgage” to pay by myself). And unless you have a large bank account, a trust fund, or want to work your life away every day for 30+ years (Despite what some folks might think, I have none of those, lol) this seemed the best way for me to live happily.

I’ve got to give props to my girlfriend Kage, who has been living along with me on the road (and her husky Tobias). Being a man, the camper life isn’t too difficult, but for a woman, it’s an entirely different challenge. According to Kage, it is definitely more difficult to live in a camper full-time as a woman (where society expects you to still look good, as well as having to take care of feminine things), but she really does make it work somehow.

Kage

The lovely Kage (and yours truly) taking a break from playing music at a good friends house party in Girdwood

The time living on the road has been a lot of fun, and a big learning experience. I’ve met countless people that have influenced my life and heard stories that have rearranged my perspectives on life’s shenanigans. Most encounters have been very positive and the RV has helped open windows of connections with people that I would not have had otherwise. As for the other end of the spectrum, I’ve only had a couple of run-ins with people telling me to move on to another camping spot (literally only 2 times the last couple years).

I only had one fire truck called on me. I was shopping in the grocery store and the intercom came on with a man saying, “License plate Y-RENT, your vehicle is on fire.” I finished shopping, checked out, and walked outside to see about 70 people pointing at my RV and a fire truck with firefighters pulling up. I told the firefighters that I just had a wood stove going inside the camper and everything was fine (I thought the chimney would make it pretty obvious, but I guess some of the bystanders didn’t know any better).

fire truck

The fire truck & “house of fire” situation at the grocery store

Life has been busy, but awesome. Our band, “The Shoot Dangs! ” has been one of the more fun projects I’ve been involved with the last few years. We just recently finished a tour throughout the Southeastern United States, and it was an incredible (and ridiculous) time. I had the pleasure of touring with Kage, Josie, & Johnny Lungs. We actually just had a phone call this week from the founder of Arctic Man (a big 10,000+ person snowmachine/ski festival up in Alaska), and they are having us headline the festival Friday & Saturday, April 11th & 12th. We are STOKED!!!! Here’s a few clips of band videos we put together quickly:

So, I figured I’d throw some pointers for those that have decided or are considering a life full-time on the road, because that is essentially the point of this whole blog thing. My biggest piece of advice, if you are thinking about living full-time and think you can commit to it, GO FOR IT!!!! You (probably, lol) won’t regret it! When I first began searching the Internet, I couldn’t find hardly anything on advice or tips for living in a camper in the winter full-time. And when I did find an article, the people living in the camper had a permanent space to park with electricity, enabling them to plug their RV in to an outlet every night to keep their electric space heaters running, which I don’t have the option of doing.

So, here are some pointers to make life more comfortable if you want to survive the winter in really cold climates (also great advice for ski bums with campers):

1) Have a backup heat plan! I prefer a wood stove and propane furnace combination.

Kimberly stove

The Kimberly wood stove (give me a shout if you want one, I can hook you up!)

Having a wood stove allows you to heat and cook without propane, oil, or electricity, which means you truly have an off-grid setup. A wood stove will keep you warm, the wood heat will dry the air out in the RV, which will help get rid of condensation from breathing and cooking. There are not many wood stoves out there that will work in an RV. I personally chose a Kimberly wood stove, because it only weighs 56 lbs and it’s extremely efficient. There are a few other companies out there (such as Marine wood stoves, which are a little cheaper, but you get what you pay for).

Propane heaters are awesome and most RVs come standard with them. But the fan that runs the propane furnace is extremely draining on your battery (most normal deep cycle 12v batteries will only last about 8 hours). Once you kill your battery, you lose your lights and heat, and you’ll have to find a source of electricity to get a full charge again. Propane furnaces also fail often, and if your only heater fails, you’re in big trouble.

2) Get a small, flushable porta-potty AND carry your water in.

Winterize your pipes, water heater, and water pump. Drain your fresh water and waste water tanks and kiss them goodbye for the winter. Believe me, it’s not worth trying to keep them flowing. Pipes will crack, tanks will break, and you will have a very expensive and time-consuming problem when spring rolls around. Trust me, heat pads and heat tape are not going to cut it, so don’t even try (they take way too much electricity to keep things thawed, so they are useless in off-grid or low-electricity situations).

Instead, buy a 5-gallon water container and carry all your drinking and cooking water in by hand. Set up your RV sink to drain directly into a 5 gallon bucket, then you can just dump your dishwater at any gas/RV dump station. Get a gym membership or take showers at a friend’s house. Get a small 5-gallon porta-potty with a hand-pump flush system. Fill the flush reservoir with RV antifreeze. Believe me, you will definitely want a bathroom when it is cold outside, not to mention, you can’t just “go” anywhere when you’re in a city or neighborhood… or else you risk making a bad reputation for yourself and start pissing people off.

3) Use your shower as a closet.

shower

In the winter, the shower becomes a closet for space-consuming winter clothes .

Since you won’t be taking showers in your camper throughout the winter, you might as well utilize that space. I put a strong shower bar across the shower to hang up heavy winter jackets and pants. I also put a small set of drawers to store winter items such as boots, gloves, hats, etc.

4) Turn your refrigerator/freezer off.

Because of living in cold temperatures and often waking up in cold temperatures, items in your refrigerator will freeze solid. Things will stay plenty cold enough without having to use your propane refrigerator. Sometimes I’ll keep ice cream or other frozen items in a storage box outside of the camper.

5) Leave your cabinets cracked open at night.

I’ve found that everything in your cabinets will freeze unless the cabinets are left open, and able to absorb heat from the RV’s living space. I always leave the bathroom door open so it keeps shower/bathroom items from freezing solid.

6) Put Reflectix bubble foil and a rug down on your floor & have a good, warm pair of house slippers or shoes.

Reflectix bubble foil

The rug and Reflectix bubble foil under the rug make a HUGE difference in the winter.

The floors of the RV are the coldest part, brutally cold sometimes (because the floors or motorhomes are typically not insulated). Placing Reflectix foil down on the floor and putting a warm, shaggy rug over the foil will give your camper a cozy feel and it will make the floor bearable to keep your feet on.

7) Sew custom curtains made of oven-mit material.

The most inefficient part of RVs are the windows, which are usually thin, single-pane windows. Go to a fabric shop and get several yards of really thick, oven-mit fabric. Measure out your windows and cut and sew up some custom curtains. If I did not have really good, thick curtains on my windows, even with the wood stove, I would be really cold. The drafts you feel from the windows alone are pretty impressive, and curtains will help mollify that.

curtains


I used oven-mitt (thick waffle-like) fabric to sew custom winter curtains… these curtains help retain heat & the only cold drafts I get now are from beer.

8) Use matches instead of lighters.

Matches are the way to go for lighting the wood stove and cooking. If it is really cold, lighters don’t work that great at all. And if you don’t have any matches around, you’re going to be in trouble if you can’t get that flint warm enough to get a stable flame going. Besides, matches are much cheaper.

9) Open vents while cooking and after you cook, immediately wash dishes!

Truth be told, cooking is the most difficult part (to me) of living in a camper in the winter. If you don’t crack open a vent so the condensation can escape, your camper will quickly begin to accumulate ice and mold, although the wood stove helps bake most of that condensation out. Also, make sure to wash dishes the second you finish your meal, because it gets much more difficult once they freeze… and you don’t want to carry any more water into the camper than you have to.

10) Invest in solar panels.

solar panels

The solar panels ( two 30 watt panels for a total of 60 watts). You gain more electricity by mounting the panels at an angle similar to what I’ve done above (instead of flat on the roof).

You are going to need a set of solar panels. Forget a generator. I don’t know why almost every RV I ever come across is running a generator. I’m here to tell you that a gas-powered generator is almost completely unnecessary. A good set of solar panels placed properly on your roof (you want at least 60 watts, I’d like to have more one day) will give you enough power every day (even cloudy days) to charge your cellphones, power your lights all night, power the propane furnace for increments when the wood stove isn’t running, and watch movies.

11) Treat yourself and install a LED flat screen TV with built-in DVD player.

Winters are long and dark in Alaska. I’m not a TV lovin’ person, but it is pretty nice to get a nice fire going, make a cup of hot tea, and watch a movie. The new mini-flat screens are pretty nice and they’re actually reasonably priced (I bought my for a little under $100 w/ the shipping from the lower 48). Make sure to get an L.E.D. and not an L.C.D. The LCD (Liquid Crystal) will freeze in cold temperatures and you might ruin the TV. The LED TVs are made of LED lights, so there is nothing to really freeze. The 19” screen seems to be about perfect for my small home.

12) Talk another person into keeping you warm!

Tobias

Tobias is a little overkill for keeping us warm

While living by yourself in a camper allows more space and freedom, it sure is nice having another warm body around, ha. But seriously, it does keep you a lot warmer at night if you’ve got your lady or your man by your side, so if they are up for having an experience they’ll remember the rest of their lives, have them move on board with you for a bit. And believe me, you really get to know someone when you share a 10 ft. long living space with them!

13) STAY ACTIVE!

Huka Falls

Matt Peters about to finish the big ride down Huka Falls (I’m following shortly behind). He had his skirt ripped off and I had my paddle ripped outta my hand & shoes sucked off, that’s one powerful hole!

When it comes down to it, this is the reason I chose to live the way I do. Living on the road naturally leads to an active life style. You are always doing something, going somewhere, or meeting somebody. When you’re not working in the winter, it’s especially nice to get out and recreate in the day or meet up with friends in the evening. This keeps you out of the camper and keeps your environment fresh. I feel I appreciate my home much more when I’ve been active all day or all night.

Well, that’s about it. Everyone stay warm out there and I’ll get another report in sooner than later,

Timmy

Join Our eMail List and download the Tiny House Directory

Simply enter your name and email below to learn more about tiny houses and stay up to date with the movement.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Eric - May 9, 2014 Reply

Timmy,
I admire your stamina and am jealous of your bravado and lifestyle. Just a note to tell you how to fix almost all of the things you mentioned as extra-difficult living in an RV in the winter in Alaska. I have seen RVs designed specifically for use in such conditions. The alterations are designed in from the beginning and built into it. The era your unit was built, they didn’t do these things and I’m sure buying one that is equipped this way costs WAY more than the one you bought, but I can also say I suspect you could sell yours to someone living a bit more southerly for a pretty good penny, though I also suspect you’re not particularly interested in making a change since what you have is actually working for you.

That said, here are things builders do to make a winter-capable RV: double pane windows, sidewalls and roof constructed of a modified SIP, such that it’s laminated foam and fiberglass and ply/luan making the walls very light, very well insulated, and rather strong structurally.

Also, tanks and fittings are encased in the heated space, so electric pads and tapes aren’t necessary and the plumbing is all protected. This also means the floor is not the outermost part of the insulated envelope, keeping it MUCH warmer. The most hard-core of these units use hot water heat fired by propane or even diesel fuel (handy if the unit’s engine is diesel) and in that case, the heating system also partially heats the engine and fuel tanks to make it even more reliable in the truly bitter cold. The best ones run a heating line parallel to the plumbing lines keeping them all heated and protected. This heating system is really quite genius and the pump that moves the hot water uses surprisingly little power.

Now, I want to say I’m not trying to make you unhappy with your rig, I like it quite a lot, I’m just giving you an option for making life easier if you do this longer-term and get tired of some of what you mentioned as the more tedious aspects of making it work.

I wish you best of luck and hope some of the things I mentioned either help you improve your current rig in some way, or if you decide to make a change, help you choose something that will solve some things you may be less than happy with.

    Timothy - January 6, 2015 Reply

    Are these winter RVs manufactured that way? Can you send a link to a company that does this? What keywords would I search for to find an RV like this? I’m looking for a place to live out of and the winters in Colorado can get far below freezing.

Tim - May 9, 2014 Reply

Nice setup. I love Tobias!
Thanks for sharring your experiences.

    Rafael Toledo - May 18, 2014 Reply

    I wanted to know about the stove you have in your rig.cool idea about porta pottie. Also since I have a cat.in the winter I use a honey bucket with that clumping kitty litter.as soon as I’m done. I bag it and get rid of it.And I bubble rap the windows inside.and cover the ones outside. My situation is different from yours.I live in a 5 th whl.and its skirted completely. Like yourself.I don’t use the refrigerator in the winter.and carry 2-seven gallon water containers.I use something called fatwood to start fires.Also I like Tobias the big dog.God bless of you. Keep on trucking.

Truman Green - May 9, 2014 Reply

Really enjoyed reading this very informative article.
I’ve been staying in my mint ’81 A-class for a few weeks.
Luckily, this model came winterized from the factory. It
rarely gets down to freezing in southern BC where
I live but you’ve got lots of great ideas and tips for
colder climates. Your wood stove looks great and
I’m considering installing the same model.

    Lenik - September 29, 2015 Reply

    Could you please share your tips for winterizing RV off grid? will be our first winter in Salmon Arm. Thank you

Katie - May 9, 2014 Reply

Hey Tim!

Thanks for sharing your home and tips for winter van living. My boyfriend and I live in a similar sized converted ford transit in the French alps and I love hearing about how others survive (and thrive!) in small portable homes in cold conditions. Double thumbs up to removing in-house bathroom facilities and carrying water in, we do the same.

And cooking in such a small space can be challenging, but exciting when it works out 🙂

And DEFINITELY have back up heat plans! We are lucky to have an electric hook up, but we have gas backup for when there are power cuts or if we are on the move.

And last of all, glad you are happily exploring the world, slowly, with your home on your back – like a contented snail 🙂 I wish you lots of luck on your adventures – they look amazing!

Katie.

BC - May 9, 2014 Reply

A lot of practical advice in this one article. Worthy of a bookmark for future reference.

Athena - May 9, 2014 Reply

Congradulations on your awesome article and making it through the Alaskan winters! I thought your information was clear, concise and well
written. Especially for people who wouldn’t even imagine all of those potential problems in extremely cold weather. We all know how winters can be devastatingly cold even in the lower 48 after this last winter.
I heat my home with a very large woodstove and it takes up so much of my time in the winter hours. I have to collect firewood 12 months of the year just to stay stocked up and I live near St. Louis where it is mostly warm. If you could send me more info. about your cute little wood stove I “wood” really appreciate it. I need something smaller for my greenhouse.
thanx again for the nicely written article,
Athena

    Van - November 22, 2014 Reply

    Athena,

    I’m sorry it takes so much time and effort for you to feed your furnace. Have you looked at more efficient stoves? I’ve heard of two that take advantage of mass to store heat energy. They’re related and are supposedly quite efficient: Masony Heaters http://www.inspirationgreen.com/masonry-heaters.html and Rocket Mass Heaters http://www.richsoil.com/rocket-stove-mass-heater.jsp . I hope this helps!

      redShirtGuy - September 11, 2015 Reply

      @Van: Really? Mass generally correlates fairly closely with Weight. Maybe in Outer Space, the links you provide could be useful for a Tacoma truck camper set up for parking in low earth orbit. Forget traveling to new gigs, he could get work doing satellite repair. Just park in the satellite’s orbital path and the paycheck will come to him. Probably won’t be much colder up there than Alaska, but getting fire wood might be a problem. But then again those 60watts of solar panel power would probably be enough to run an electric furnace 24×7 … shoot I forgot about eclipses.

      Anyway, clearly Kent speaks from experience and the deep thought given to solving the problems he faced with the tech and budget available to him in an extreme environment. I’m impressed. Another point I want to commend Kent on is how he has the wits to know how important it is to present a clean and organized exterior with accouterments that suggest the owner actually contributes to the local economy…. Look forward to how he adapts to the desert next!

Carol - May 9, 2014 Reply

Love that there are people living this way! This is my goal. To live free of what society tells us is normal and good is my wish. I will get there one day.
The Kimberly stove, how do you like that? It is rather expensive but it does seem to be a great choice from what research I have done on it. It takes up so little space, plus it is such a sleek and attractive design.
Thank you for all the information you gave!

Mary Berry - May 9, 2014 Reply

Wow. If I was 40 years younger. I think you’re crazy to combine full-time RVing in such a small rig, boondocking, and ridiculous cold. But I also think you’re right about creating amazing memories!

Wendy - May 9, 2014 Reply

Wow, what a crazy adventure! At this point in my life I’m too old for all of that, lol, and I think if my husband and I were stuck in an RV together one of us would probably have to figure out how to dig a hole in the frozen earth to bury the body.
But kudos to you! It looks like you are having a great time and you and your girlfriend are adorable. You will never, ever forget this and some day if you find yourselves ensconced in the typical home you will likely look back on this time of your lives fondly.
Does the dog sleep with you? Because that is one BIG footwarmer!!!
I think it’s great and good luck to the two of you.

    Tom - May 14, 2014 Reply

    Hi Wendy,
    Are you older than 62 or 69 years? My wife and I are those ages and we live / camp in a Dodge Sprinter Passenger Wagon. It’s not actually a camper, just a passenger van with some alterations. It does have 72″ of height throughout the entire rear section, so I can stand straight up when cooking or doing dishes, etc.
    We installed a bed across the back, right up to the side windows, giving us 72″ of length and 48″ wide. I sleep on a diagonal from corner to corner because I sleep with one arm outstretched above my head.

    The space under the bed is used to store clothing, cooking, camping supplies and tools.

    The van has an auxiliary diesel-fuel heater to heat the engine’s coolant. When that heater is turned on, the heater fan puts out air at the medium speed and keeps the interior nice and warm.

    We have a stainless steel commercial kitchen cart, 48″ x 24″ mounted just behind the driver’s seat. We mounted a micro-wave over, a coffee maker and a toaster oven to the top shelf. We use those if we’re in a campground with electricity. (Or once, plugged into the exterior electrical outlet at a gas station!)

    We have a porta-potty for “emergencies.” We have water in tanks that we carry in, and always have a “wash station” set up. We use the campground’s toilet and shower.

    So far, we’ve taken a few weekend camping trips, an 18 day trip to Colorado, from Chicago, and a 22 day trip to Florida.

    When we’re camping, we meet friendly people who like to share stories and food. Or we may keep to ourselves some days. It depends on our mood or on our agenda for the day.

    It just takes a little bit of attentive communication to plan, and go on a trip.

    Try it once. You and your husband may find it a great deal more enjoyable than you can imagine!

    Tom

Donna - May 9, 2014 Reply

Really great article, thanks for sharing. Hope you continue on with your freedom and lifestyle!

mike - May 9, 2014 Reply

When you file your taxes, what do you put for an address?

When you register and insure your vehicle, what do you put for an address?

These seem to be challenges I can’t find good solutions to… thanks!

    Amanda - April 27, 2015 Reply

    Try a service like travelingmailbox.com and have your mail forwarded to their warehouse. You get emailed when new mail comes in and you can have in opened and scanned digitally. They also give you a physical address you can use for your driver’s license, taxes, and insurance!

David Remus - May 9, 2014 Reply

Nice little home. Lots of good advice.

Kimberly stoves are nice but I would expect any small wood burning stove that costs $4,000 to be pretty nice. They have no cooking surface besides a flat top. To bake you need a separate oven. Here are some options that are used all the time by people in very cold climates.

Sheepherders live through the winter using small, airtight wood stoves like this one below. The stove has an oven, cooktop, and a hot water tank for about $1,300.
http://transoceanltd.com/appliances/stoves/sheepherd.html

Navigator stove works has been selling efficient marine wood/charcoal stoves for over 100 years. They come in great colors for a little extra. Here’s their models and prices.

http://www.marinestove.com/index.htm

Sardine (86% efficiency!) – $1,150 (plain iron), 8” x 12” cooktop w/rail, 7,500 to 18,000 BTU’s.

Little Cod – $1,460 (plain iron), 13.75” x 18” cooktop w/rail, 10,000 to 28,00 BTU’s

Halibut – $2850 (plain iron), 16” x 20.75” cooktop w/rail, more BTU’s than above, 2 pot rings, Oven w/stainless steel adjustable rack, oven thermometer

Jotul has sold more than 1,000,000 of their very efficient cast iron wood stove, the model 602. It is compact, good sized flat cooktop, and can be fitted with an air kit to bring in outside air. 11,000 to 48,000 BTU’s. $1500.

Morso has a similar stove with a larger firebox for not much more.

Look into older designs from cold climates that have survived the test of time, like sheepherder’s sailors, small cabin stoves, marine stoves. Look to the northern countries, seafaring nations, etc.

$4,000 is a lot for a stove with just a flat top but as they pointed out, they aren’t paying a mortgage so they can splurge on how they outfit their home.

Pam - May 9, 2014 Reply

Really enjoyed reading your great ideas. I’m getting ready to hit the road, although it is Northern Cali I will bookmark your article for future ideas. I have 4 companions, that probably don’t weigh half as much as Tobias! Lol! They keep me Nice and warm and make me smile!

Br. Curt Beardsley - May 9, 2014 Reply

Thanks for the article, Tim! I really enjoy hearing and reading about folk’s experiences when living and traveling small. I never made time for it even though it was a dream and, now that I’m old, it will be one of those things that I’ll say, “If only…..”. Everyone reading this article: Please do everything you can to have a bucket list, and then do it! Don’t have regrets. I DO have a bucket list now and will do everything I have time for. Your story encourages me to keep going.

Where were the links you mentioned? I’d like to hear your band.

You guys are a beautiful couple and your Kid is a real charmer. Enjoy your life, it’s the only one you have.

david head - May 9, 2014 Reply

Tim, I liked your story,it’s wonderful to see someone living outside the square. I live in Australia and will soon head off to the Kimberleys and beyond in a tiny caravan, just me and my cattle dogs,I will spend the rest of my life travelling Australia. I did it once before in my twenties for 4 years, but now i can’t see the point of rattling around on my own in a big house. I’m a signwriter, so will be signwriting to pay my way. I can’t see myself stuck in one place forever.The older i get ,the more i realise, not what i want, but what i don’t want, like the tv, which i tossed out years ago. I have a little 2001 jeep soft top, and the caravan i will get is a Little Robin Mini, and the smaller version is called a Little Robin Mini Mini. I hope to read more of your adventures.Beautiful dog.

The Lord in his wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable, hope, humour and dogs. But the greatest was dogs.

Kriss Femmpaws - May 9, 2014 Reply

Some very good advise you have given us about living in a small space and getting along in the colder areas of the world.

I see you have an Alaskan Malamute. They seem to enjoy snuggling with their pack when it’s cold… After all they know they have to keep their furless pack members warm. Mine made great back warmers They are great companions, because they all tend to be upbeat, that is something you need in the dark gloomy days of winter.

david head - May 9, 2014 Reply

Here’s a few more dog quotes.

A dog, you can tell by the eyes, has many – tender regrets.

To go as the dog goes
haphazard and intent
every step
an arrival.

David Remus - May 9, 2014 Reply

I left a letter about reasonably priced alternatives to the $4,000 Kimberly stove, it was not posted.

I really hope that the Tinyhouseblog people are not choosing to delete reasonable sharing of useful information among aficianados and instead favor the advertisers.

    Kent Griswold - May 9, 2014 Reply

    Sorry David, I was away from the computer for several hours and was not able to publish your comment. It is up now and I like alternatives to be shown as well…

      David Remus - May 11, 2014 Reply

      My apologies for jumping the gun, I should have waited a couple of days. I am sure you are busy.

      NIce site, keep up the good work.

Linda Quiggle - May 9, 2014 Reply

I am impressed with the propane/wood stove. What brand is it?

Steve - May 9, 2014 Reply

Dude. I absolutely love your spirit and ingenuity. I’m building a tiny house on wheels this summer but you’re making me go back on craigslist and maybe just buy a camper!! Please keep writing, as I find your journey totally fascinating. Support what you’re doing 100%!!

Denise - May 9, 2014 Reply

Seems like you have came to the same conclusions as we have for winter AK living! Only one disagreement: solar. Nice, love it, but we actually found our honda eu1000 generator to be more cost effective for the initial purchase and more reliable. I think that is why so many rvers go that route. I really want to try a wind turbine although! We both know how much wind we get.

emme - May 9, 2014 Reply

I love it when people give details about how to live off grid in a mobile space. I’ve been thinking about finishing out a cargo van to live off grid and stealth, so I don’t have to pay for parking. That means no holes or vents in the exterior of the van. Some of your ideas would be really helpful.

Jamie Wallhauser - May 9, 2014 Reply

Thanks for all the valuable info, I’m thinking about a small camper for winter weekends and you’ve given plenty of food for thought. Thanks!

Shawn - May 9, 2014 Reply

Thanks for your wonderful article. I learn many new
Things by reading it. I appreciate your bravery
And Cage must be really something special. Living in
A small space with a dog and a man is quite an
Accomplishment so I glad you show your appreciation .
Please keep writing and enjoying your adventure!

Alex V - May 9, 2014 Reply

Great article, but the information provided about LED TVs is incorrect. They are LCD TVs that use LED backlights instead of fluorescents. There’s still an LCD panel. With that said, LED TVs are the better choice for off-grid situations because they use less electricity.

sally - May 9, 2014 Reply

I really did enjoy this article. I haven’t camped in Alaska but I have camped in some very cold weather in a tent camper, so I do have a couple of hints. I warm my camper up on very very cold nights with three oil lamps. I use ultra pure lamp oil because it does not smell at all. I have a couple very small oil lamps that I use when we go to bed. I turn them down very low and can turn them up if I have to get up in the night. This saves battery power. If you can place bubble wrap over your windows it lets in light and keeps out the cold.

Ralph Sly - May 10, 2014 Reply

Tim you are certainly impressing the hell out of me. I love what you are doing and have been doing the same for about the last 6 months, however, in a much smaller unit. Mine is a truck and older style pop up camper. The winter in the mountains I have been in are far too cold for an old fool like me but I made it work with a few nights in motels and a couple of trips back to the shack for a few days and a couple of weeks on a stretch but for the most part, the camper was home. The morning jumping up and lighting the stove top naked was no fun either.
I decided to upgrade to a high top camper and took my time until one passed me on the road, absolutely beautiful with the same layout as your camper (but a little tighter in space), not what I was looking for, I wanted the bed across the back but the price was just too right to even argue. Next winter in that will tell the tale but it will be the same as yours, not total success no matter what I do to it and to modify anything will reduce the great profit I stand to make just selling it and continuing with my plan to develop a Cube Van I already own.
With that I can put a shower in with a small holding tank under it to drain via an electric drain switch when on country roads. (Yes people I will be using biodegradable soap and it is also grey water and put through a filter before spilling it out on the gravel road, no different than those who open their fresh water holding tank on the way home from a trip, hell, I might just charge the county with dust control). Toilets are the problem in the winter and I intend to go with portable potty because there are a million roadside toilets in lay-bys to dump them. I don’t use chemicals but dump often and clean with dishwasher soap (again biodegradable, you betcha, [is there such a thing?]). I have never had one smell at all but can always detect an ordure from RV toilets no matter how well vented they are.
I love that wood stove and it sure is the answer to heat. My unit when finished should be around 120’ or if I say to hell with a back shed I can use the entire cube it will be 144’ “haven’t decided yet”. With lots of head room I can put in a queen Murphy bed that will turn into an office when folded up and I can mount it high enough to clear the tops of lots of seating area when being used as a bed. I might need a little step to get into it or maybe a rebounder. I intend to also have a comfort buddy by the time it’s completed if I find a fine lady who wants to live like that and cozy up to my pudgy but extremely cute parts but will probably end up with another Border collie. My last old girl loved getting away on our trips but I would have to kill a bunch of people to get her back and they are all tougher than I am so will have to find a replacement (yes dog lovers, it is not fair to have a Border in a camper but you argue that one out with Maggie and she will chew on you like she did the two big guys who tried to enter our comfy abode on a dark night).
For electrical power I also will be going with the solar panels (only a few more) but will use a bank of 6 volt batteries and a 3000 Watt inverter, which gives many hours of power and used only when necessary you have a few days of power. I also have a gas Kubota generator for emergencies and a small rechargeable battery booster unit for emergencies. Have used it and it works great.
Someone briefed over the Webasto heating system a while back and they do work great but use a bit more fuel than makes me comfortable. I saw a guy who uses a system from an RV hot water tank and ran much diluted antifreeze through it. Piped it through hot water radiators in the unit and built a system of black pipe around the engine block giving it just enough heat to keep the engine warm. He heated the coach and engine with that and only used the pilot light on the propane water heater. There was also a reservoir in the coach where he could ad more water or antifreeze if required and it radiated a ton of heat. Now, before building this, I would want to discuss it with someone much smarter than I am because I thought it was not too bright to heat antifreeze in this manner before it boiled. Everything was circulated with a little pump that drew its power from a small wind generator not much larger than that for a bicycle lamp and charged a little independent battery which he drew the power with. When I seen this it was dam cold out -40 and very warm in the coach (thermostat by open vent) Cheap heat and I am not sure what I am going to do but the areas I am in, your heater will be great and I can access lots of wood but might check out this other method also. My holding tanks, fresh and grey can all be built into the coach of the cube van.

Anyway, what a great life you are living, I love it but want to be more stealth than you are so I can park anywhere. I just spent a few months off and on in Canmore Alberta and you could tell who the guys in the campers were and I met a few who had stealth down to a science. They were totally off the grid and didn’t leave their unit physically where they slept and the vehicles just looked like PMVs with a couple of quirky things on them like low stacks and vents. The cube will look just like a work truck with exterior tool box doors except for the furnace exhaust but many work trucks are heated so I will have an edge.

Woolywagons(tm) by Steve - May 10, 2014 Reply

Wow!!!! have I ever enjoyed your written article,I will tell you you have a gift of writing.stay at it and enjoy your life style ,not too many folks have the kahoonas to do it ,me included, I do build some awesome custom traveling campers &wagons of Aluminum,spray foam sip insulated,wood facade rustic looking,lightweight . My product we call Woolywagons & Woolycabins. We also welcome tiny house dwellers here at our woodsy central Indiana lazyaa B&B Guest Ranch home of the Woolywagons custom built RVs I am 62 and love building and people and traveling with my horse.I have done some whitewater canoeing but Man you are one radical kayaker too too cool If ever in Indiana I would sure appreciate chewing the fat with you at our campfire.This invite is good for all of you
We offer free stays for anyone wanting us too build for them their dream home and if we don,t that’s ok We at least have made a new friend and life Don,t get any better than that. We will even guide DIYers or maybe just build them one of our shells. I HAVE GOT TO SAY THIS,I have enjoyed your arrival as much as any I read,it covered some very important facts and aspects of living on the road.Please keep writing and let’s all be thankful too Kent Griswald for his super blog. My best to you Timmy & Kage
SINCERELY,STEVE founder of Woolywagons
http://www.woolywagons.com
http://www.lazyaa.com

JJ - May 11, 2014 Reply

Thanks so much for your article. I brought me fun and great information which may end up in the design of my Tiny House. I am wishing you more wonderful adventures!

Bruce Nixon - May 11, 2014 Reply

Hey Timmy. Thanks for the article. I moved in a 1954 Fleet Aire slide in pkup camper mounted on a 1978 GMC 4 by 4 last summer and put in my first Mt. winter. Did really we all things considered. Got to do some upgrades though. New thermal pane windows top the list, along with better insulation along the bottom side of the camper. My outfit is strictly run off of propane which mostly is good, although I do wish I could put in a wood stove – but no room. My heat source is a Little Buddy catalitic heater, and it kept up very well at 25 below with a strong wind. And yes, condensation is also my biggest problem.

Eve HY - May 11, 2014 Reply

You can put reflective foil house wrap over RV. You don’t have to remove your exterior siding. You just have to put furring strips over the house wrap and put another layer of exterior siding. I have seen pictures of people making a RV cover out of reflective bubble foil for their motor homes but that would work if you are parked in one place for a while. Another thing that would help with the loss of heat would be to have spray foam insulation applied to the bottom of your RV since you are not skirting it. Also, you should look into 3M window shrink film. It’s a great low budge solution for single paned windows.

Bob Ratcliff - May 13, 2014 Reply

My wife and me lived in a 19 1/2 foot Winnebago Brave class A for 8 months and oddly enough it was winter that made us move out. The way you’ve figured out solutions that works for you certainly put a smile on my face. Living with less is the only way to enjoy a whole lot more. Meanwhile you’ve got the perfect layout, especially for a unit this small. Is your band your only income source or do you find other jobs as they come along? Enjoy the moment. It’s a whole lot more precious than you’d think. I know, my body is closing down but our tiny memories are the ones I reflect upon the most. DARN IT WAS FUN!

Craig - May 13, 2014 Reply

My mother had a Malamute named “Timber” that was a deadringer fof that wolf. His only tricks were Shaking hands, Escaping from enclosures and Howning at Emergency Vehicle sirens (He’d ignore people fake howling and other dogs howling).

    Craig Browning - May 14, 2014 Reply

    Sorry about almost duplicate message, using Erratic Computer at Public lLibrary. #2 posting is better if #1 can be lilted.

Craig Browning - May 13, 2014 Reply

That Wolf is a deadringer for a Malamute my mother had named “Timber,” everyone thought he was a wolf. His tricks included Shaking Hands, Escaping Confinement, Howling at Emergency Vehicles (and nothing else), Marking Christmas Trees, and taking Full Pans level off the stove.

Rhoda Ross - May 13, 2014 Reply

How do you choose the the places you and your lady spend every night? How can the average person who does not sing in a band find free or low cost places to stay nightly?

Maureen - May 17, 2014 Reply

Just an additional idea for your windows, cut some of the refectx bubble insulation to your window sizes. Then plastic bubble side will adhere to the window without any tape and give you additional insulation under your curtains. I did this in my small vintage camper this past winter and it helped a lot.(although I was not in Alaska it was cold in the lower 48 too!)

Rafael Toledo - May 18, 2014 Reply

I wanted to know about the stove you have in your rig.cool idea about porta pottie. Also since I have a cat.in the winter I use a honey bucket with that clumping kitty litter.as soon as I’m done. I bag it and get rid of it.And I bubble rap the windows inside.and cover the ones outside. My situation is different from yours.I live in a 5 th whl.and its skirted completely. Like yourself.I don’t use the refrigerator in the winter.and carry 2-seven gallon water containers.I use something called fatwood to start fires.Also I like Tobias the big dog.God bless of you. Keep on trucking.

Barbara - May 29, 2014 Reply

HI Timmy! Great blog! Loved it! My husband and I are 63 years old. We have done it all! Lived in a tiny travel trailer (10 x 7 foot inside measurements) 13 feet long (including the hitch and the bumper). It was the ’70’s and we had two children, and one on the way. We had already owned a 4 bdrm., two bath home when we were 20, and the only way my husband could get me to move from the security of being near my family in Tucson, Az., and live this way was to move to the Santa Cruz Mountains. He agreed!! The trailer was a choice we made to live the lifestyle we chose to live! What a joy it was! We lived in an old resort spot in the Redwood forest in Northern California, with others our age living the same way in small rvs, trailers and school buses, I think everyone there was a musician. 🙂 Our next step was buying a HUGE 35 ft. travel trailer with a ‘tip out’. It truly did seem huge to us. Even had a home birth (our 3rd child) in that little travel trailer. My sister and niece came and lived with us for awhile also. We fit! My husband customized the back bedroom with tiny little ‘dwarf’ sized bunkbeds for our babies. They even had tiny little headboard bookcases for their cherished books. The baby slept in a Moses basket until she was able to move into her tiny little portable bed. It was the most precious time of our lives. We lived outdoors so much, showered at the ‘club’ showers, even used the toilets there when we were in the tiny trailer. (we also had to buy ice for our ice box every 3 days…no fridge!) 🙂 Would I do it all again? Yes…in a HEARTBEAT!! We have taken early retirement for the rest of our lives (after our tiny trailer days)…raising our 6 children..running our own business for 30 plus years, getting our kids through college, weddings for 4 daughters, and guess what? We are now living in a 29 foot travel trailer (with a 14 ft. slide out). We have our raised bed gardens growing strong, our hydroponics doing beautifully! Our lives are simple…but so joyful again!! Not much money…no debt…but joy!! We have moved to the Mountains again as well. I just wanted to tell you that I’m SO proud of the two of you…living your heart!! No regrets! …no regrets!! Enjoy your life to the max! Being our age, it was a little hard for our kids to grasp the fact that this is what we WANT to do….but they are coming around! 🙂 So happy for you!! Love your story! That’s what life should be all about…being happy…and creating the story we want to share with others! So happy that we have lived the ‘crazy’ simple life we CHOSE to live, and still choose to live!! So happy you are as well!!

Brandi - July 28, 2014 Reply

This is amazing! I’m considering this lifestyle myself, and this is the first practical advice that was also enjoyable to read.
What kind of effort did you put into installing your wood furnace? Was is a job you were able to do yourself?

Ron - November 18, 2014 Reply

I used to make fun of the snowbirds.(retired folks who moved with the seasons) Now?
It’s a good idea.

Tiannah - November 19, 2014 Reply

Hi there,
I hope you don’t mind me contacting you out of the blue. I am a researcher working for major independent production company Optomen Television in London. We are currently producing a new documentary series for Channel 4 in the UK about people who have quit the rat race and moved to live in remote locations the world. It will be an inspirational series following the incredible stories of ordinary people who are living a unique way of life in some of the most beautiful and breath-taking places. The presenter, Kevin McCloud, best known for presenting the hit TV series ‘Grand Designs’ will visit people in their wildness homes and get to experience first-hand the wonder of life in these stunning locations.
I am currently looking for suitable stories to feature in the series and we’re keen to contact people who may be interested in taking part. I came across your website and thought I would contact you as I’m trying to find Expat British/Irish families attempting to live self-sufficiently in wilderness locations overseas and I was wondering if you’re aware of any British expats that could be interested?
http://britishexpats.com/articles/adventurous-expats-living-in-remote-corners-of-the-world-to-feature-in-new-channel-4-television-series-fronted-by-designer-kevin-mccloud/

Any help you can provide is much appreciated. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Many Thanks and Kind Regards,

Tiannah

joem - November 20, 2014 Reply

Cant see spending that kinda money on such a small stove. Especially since you could spend far less on an improved solar/battery set up that would enable you to run the propane heat. Which of course is safer. But whatever works.

    Chris - February 17, 2015 Reply

    Propane heat is NOT safer….if u have a leak boom or u die in your sleep…. Woodstove the way to go.. No noise, free fuel practically and soothing heat…

      redShirtGuy - September 17, 2015 Reply

      @Chris: Wood stoves have killed many an unlucky sleeper. Combusting wood in sleep quarters can kill in a multitude of ways. Of course, wood smoke is an established carcinogen. Wood stoves in a small mobile high vibration environment are double jeopardy. Fail to be vigilant in the daily maintenance and wake up dead. On the bright side all the bumps on the road might knock the creosote build-up off the stack walls, but then again it might not. Probably the biggest risk with a wood stove is human nature/carelessness/extenuating circumstances/etc. At some point the operator will be tempted to operate the vehicle with live coals in the stove…

      Sheepherder wagons have a long history of wood/dung stoves but we don’t see them in the Wally World parking lot belching smoke from their long chimneys protruding from steeply sloped sheet-metal roofs do we? One has to wonder how the modern RV roof holds up, with or without a spark arrester on the stack, so close to the exhaust opening? Wonder how you would like it if somebody parked an RV in front of your house and then the creosote buildup in the stack flashed and blew a blizzard of sparks across your property and vehicles? 😉 Burning birch is not option in most parts of the country. Maybe Kent should discuss the types of wood he prefers and why ….

      @Van: Really? Mass generally correlates fairly closely with Weight. Maybe in Outer Space, the links you provide could be useful for a Tacoma truck camper set up for parking in low earth orbit. Forget traveling to new gigs, he could get work doing satellite repair. Just park in the satellite’s orbital path and the paycheck will come to him. Probably won’t be much colder up there than Alaska, but getting fire wood might be a problem. But then again those 60watts of solar panel power would probably be enough to run an electric furnace 24×7 … shoot I forgot about eclipses.

      Anyway, clearly Kent speaks from experience and the deep thought given to solving the problems he faced with the tech and budget available to him in an extreme environment. I’m impressed. Another point I want to commend Kent on is how he has the wits to know how important it is to present a clean and organized exterior with accouterments that suggest the owner actually contributes to the local economy…. Look forward to how he adapts to the desert next!

Rachael Griffith - January 18, 2015 Reply

I loved your article!!! We own a 74 Winnebago Brave and live in it during the summer. We were always wondering if it would even be possible living in it during the cold Canadian Winters. I guess it is!!! I especially love the part about your GF. I feel sometimes it is hard living in an RV fulltime too because of society’s view about how women should look. Sometimes I couldn’t even tell my employers where I was living or I wouldn’t get hired. Thank you for your article. 🙂

Chris - February 17, 2015 Reply

Just drain the shower straight down onto the ground.. It’s only soapy water no diff than washing your car outside… You have a woodstovebin there so get that fire rock’n, heat up a couple pots of hot water on the stove n pour over yer head… Lather up n repeat…
I did this for 4 years lol….gotta have that woodstove though…

Pour a little hot water on the bottom of the dhower just b4 u step in…

Toby - August 30, 2015 Reply

How well do your solar panels work in the winter?

Sara - October 28, 2015 Reply

Ehh yoo!! I am slowly converting my camper for the winter. I live in breck in co anndd saw the kelly stove. Any advice on where to find one of these beauts???

kyle - December 27, 2015 Reply

Hi man,

i love seeing your build. i live full time in a school bus conversion. its great to see like minded people out there. i especially like the kimberly stove. do you have a kimberly hook up? if so, i want in! if you can offer me a cheaper/used kimberly, i’d gladly throw you some cash for the service.
you can check out my build here: http://www.kylevolkman.com
Thanks! kyle

Evan ward - December 30, 2015 Reply

..love your post ..we live full time in a 37 ft fifth wheel at Gull lake Alberta …I’m always trying to get more off grid ..got 10 AGM 12 v batteries and 460 watts of solar ..id love to discuss life and adventures if you want ..shoot me a email ..nice to see we are not the only crazy people in the world ..lol

charity - January 15, 2016 Reply

Man this is a great setup! Absolutely love it. There are so many great Rv Living Ideas out there I pool from them all on an ongoing basis.

We have been a long time working on our Full Time setup. Started small in 2010 with a 1977 KIT Kamper 9.5 Ft. We bought it for 500$ and rebuilt it from the ground up, it was like a crash course in Rv Ed 101.

We decided to leave conventional housing altogether in 2011 after part timing in our TC. However having a kid, we had to step it up a few feet. So we made a plan. Short term we would leave renting and buy a stopgap 5th wheel while we saved for our full size full time unit.
We bought our stop gap June 19 2012 for 1800$. a 1979 Fleetwood Prowler 24 foot 5vr.

We lived in it until May 1 2015 when we brought home our Full Time Unit.

In that time of not renting we made so many improvements to our life. Renting was sucking us dry literally.

What we saved from being renters has allowed us great improvements in our overall quality of life.

Which if you rent, your quality of life is in the hands of the landlord or property management and it nearly always tips to their benefit.

We are now the proud owners of a 2004 Fleetwood AX6 Wilderness Advantage w/4 slides. And we continue to work on getting it fully ready to be compatable with existing off grid in the future. Its been a long road for us, but I am glad we took it. We own our rig free and clear, and there is no way wed ever own a conventional home in 3 years preperation in todays world.

I love to read all the ideas and others journeys.Take care to all who have gotten off the beaten path, its not well understood by main stream society but it is well apprecited if you ever find yourself crossing the road to take the road less traveled to homeownership.

Cheers

Jessica - August 28, 2016 Reply

Finally someone with a bit of insight into winter living (Alberta, Canada)
I’m very interested in your wood stove? Where did you get it? Also how much does it weigh? Etc

Alaska is next on my list of places to visit! If you’re ever around shoot me a email! Me and my bf would love chat with you n yours
Much love

Megan - September 13, 2016 Reply

Hey I’m also full timing here in AK and getting ready to start insulating. Woohoo!

Chris - September 13, 2016 Reply

Are you guys still full yiming in the rv?
Winter is coming on fast and I’m not wanting to spend another winter here in Alberta…I did what you guys are doing for 4 years and it’s yome to sell the house and do this again… Just had to read your blog again to inspire me again lol.

I talked to you on IRV2 before. I go by “Rollingsmoke” on there. Got the name from the woodstove I built and had in my motorhome. I never plugged in anywhere was always random ” camping “;) in the mountains…. If you want some tips on how to have running water in the winter feel free to ask. I can give you a few tips. Either way works but I liked having running water. It’s challenging but doable.
Take care,
Chris

    lorie - September 30, 2016 Reply

    Chris, I live in Maine and this will be my first winter in my rv. I’m stationary but running a hose which is all outside, I don’t have the means to run heat tape but really have been looking for any possible way to keep running water. I have skirting the bottom with hay bails and plastic for drafts and wrapped my bump outs with insulation and plastic. I’m hoping to add an entryway with a wood stove for back up heat. do you have any other suggestions on what else to do so I don’t freeze up my lines in the brutal cold ? Thank You 🙂

Vanessa Andreassen - December 20, 2016 Reply

If y’all find yourselves passing through Delta Junction, you are welcome to look us up. My hubby, two kiddos and I would surely exchange any supplies we could to help for a few stories from your adventures On the open road. Until then, stay safe and blessed be.
Vanessa Andreassen
Delta Junction, AK

David - January 25, 2017 Reply

I found living in our Airstream (31′) in winter, in places in Ontario, Vancouver B C, Whitehorse Yukon, back in 1972 to 77; very comfortable. Airstreams have windows with double glazing, so that was a big help. Furnace worked fine. Hot water heater worked fine. Used more propane which was expected. When we were plugged in to AC power we had water (had a heat line) and sewer hook ups. I closed the bottom in with snow. We managed the humidity issues, and everything was fine. Traveled up the Alaska highway with snow and glare ice, the trailer towed perfectly with our rear wheel drive Chevy Suburban.

Leave a Reply: